Chiwoniso Maraire: No such thing as a “short Life”.

17695412We met a few years ago and fell in love. It happens out in the touring maelstrom of passing ships. We threw ropes across a platonic ocean and drew each other in. It was the right time, 2005, at the right place, Durban in South Africa for the right reason – Poetry Africa. We became friends. Both of us knew we’d see each other once in a blue moon so Chi suggested she play to my poems. On instinct I agreed. So we walked out onto stage at BaxterTheatre in Durban and played and our spirit and friendship were sealed.

There are few people I’d do anything for and they’re too far between. Chi and I  spoke a few months ago – was it really a year – about a personal matter. A while before that I  suggested her to Baaba Maal for a project. He agreed and he knew her work well.  I called her but our diaries conspired against us. Time has a way of doing that. It has a rationale of its own. Today I received an email  “Chiwoniso Maraire died.”

There’s no such thing as a “short life”. There’s one filled or unfulfilled. Hers was full of, and filled with,  love and loss and these have a most  gracious parity in which one will always highlight the other.


9 thoughts on “Chiwoniso Maraire: No such thing as a “short Life”.

    • Hi Firdoze Thanks. Your message had a link in it (to moments entertainment) and so AKSIMET sent it straight to trash. It is you Firdoze isn’t it?

  1. Dear Lemn,
    I have been very moved, reading some of your poetry and watching some U-tube clips over the last few days, and being inspired by how you have reached out to the world and made so much of your intelligence, expression and compassion. It has made me so happy!

    I worked at Commonword/Cultureword from 91-95 approx and you were the Identity worker before that when I was on the man committee as a volunteer. I remember doing a little team workshop with you, Helen and Louise in my front room in Salford… am I remembering right? You may not remember after all this time.

    I have lived in Sydney since 1996 and the reason I found you on the internet was that I was looking up Pete, Deyika and Cathy B to see if I can link up with them when I come to Manchester in September. I have made contact with Pete and seen some of the exciting stuff that Cultureword and Cathy at the Festival are doing. I’m so impressed by that sustained, creative, altruistic effort that has come out of the work of you guys in the NW – and to see how it has borne fruit is amazing. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of personal ‘agency’ – how one or two people with a strong enough idea and self-belief can change historical events. I’m being a bit fulsome but I have been in a nostalgic haze all week… and you could have knocked me over with a feather when I found your Wiki page and read about the MBE and all the other signs of your phenomenal personal success. Moving for me to see how your fierce conviction about certain things has made you change the world in your own way.

    I think this week you have inspired me to do a bit more with the rest of my time…

    With huge respect,
    Christina Hill

    • Christina,

      It’s so genuinely good to hear from you. Thanks for reaching out. It makes my web presence worthwhile when moments of contact like this occur. I was the black writers literature development worker and came to Commonword circa 1986. I was nineteen years old. I left the children’s homes less than a year earlier. They placed me in a new-build prophetically called Poets Corner. All the street names were poets! That was in a village called Atherton in Lancashire.

      Then I came to Manchester with a small-stapled poetry collection. I popped in to Commonword and met Liz who suggested I apply for a job. So I did. I loved my time at Commonword. I loved being part of a team and I felt that we really made a difference in peoples lives. So I’ve always felt a slight betrayal that my time there and the work I did remains unacknowledged in the online world and that a potted history of Commonword’s key moments wouldn’t go amiss. I’m in a position to assist Commonword but without acknowledgment it proves impossible despite my offer.

      So then you’ll be the Christina Hill. I distinctly remember that day in your home and that whiteboard. And I remember KNOWING that I would break down as you edged closer and closer to the truth of what it is to be a worker – a person in a profession. And I am glad I did, because for all my energy I had no family and I knew that anything I did – any perceived success or laughter even – was underwritten by what I felt was a stagnating lake of loss. My somewhat secret and primary aim was to find my family. This drive was only equalled by my need to write.

      And here I was in your workshop with my hidden yearnings exposed. And I was happy for that to happen. Ultimately I had no one and I knew it. Not sure if your workshop occurred before or after I’d found my mother at twenty-one. The truth is that the most interesting thing you find when searching for your family is yourself, but that’s another matter. Your work was a public acknowledgement that the story I so supressed was in need of a more open field to scream in. I couldn’t hold any of it in truth be told. What a powerful workshop that was.

      So yes I remember you and I remember that workshop in particular. There was always something about you. You stood outside the cooperative’s quibbles. You were able to navigate us in both a group or one to one to one situation.. And you listened. You were a listener. And you have a warm smile. These skills conspire to bring people together. You were chair of the management committee if I remember rightly. Henry Normal invented Manchester Literature Festival: Cathy is doing a brilliant job.

      I’ve been to Sydney a few times. Made a Radio Four Documentary called Songlines of Steel all about The Ghan Train. What a creative place Sydney is. I’m living in London and loving it. Right now I’m in South France alone amongst the sunflowers. I’m here to write. You say “I think this week you have inspired me to do a bit more with the rest of my time…”. When you say “rest of your time” what do you mean? It’s been great and I too have been fulsome in my reply. Nostalgia is under rated. It can call to action some things whose importance we too easily forget. You know what: We should have a Commonword Workers dinner in Rusholme. I would come up to Manchester for that. How to get workers from a cooperative back together! Haha. Work that one out. I think we should take it to the management committee.


      • Hey Lemn,
        How great to hear back from you.

        I’ve been rushing around for the last few days because I’m off on my big trip, leaving Sydney in a couple of days. A bit of time now to respond.

        When I say ‘the rest of my time’, I only mean that I’m 50 this year and in the grip of the old death anxiety, the ‘what have I done with my life?’ theme. There’s no God in my world, so no afterlife for me; this is all there is. And that puts a bit of pressure on things sometimes, narrows the boundaries of what may be possible!

        S of France – how soothing that sounds. I was wondering when you get the time to be alone enough to do your writing – you sound so busy. Do you reckon you’re an extrovert or an introvert (as in, do you re-charge your batteries mainly by being with other people or by getting time alone)?

        Because of my job (to be explained another time) I don’t have a social media presence (this is the first time!), so I’m a bit naive about the processes. I’m such a dunce – I thought I was sending you an email last time, even after pressing the ‘Post comment’ button! Ha! Anyway, I assume you can see my email address, if you need to use it.

        The long and the short of it is, I love your idea of gathering the Commonword/Cultureword veterans. I am not having a great deal of luck linking up with them just now to pin things down (holidays, I think), but I’ve sent emails suggesting Sunday 8 Sept for dinner. You are of course invited, but I don’t know how we arrange it in this forum without blowing peoples’ privacy. Help me!

        Also, I will be in Gabian (near Montpellier) from 27 Aug to 3 Sept and London on 25 & 26 Aug (Notting Hill Carnival) – reggae still a bit hard to source in Sydney – so there may be other opportunities to say hi. But I don’t want to encroach on your privacy…

        So lovely to correspond, anyway.

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